When my parents moved back to California I was bitter. Plain and simple. My life was over. Or so I thought. And acted. I was an unhappy camper no matter the weather. All in all I was a depressing mess. And if I could go back I would tell myself to look for the good in everything.
There is quite a bit in this world that is hard. And that hurts. Disrespect, bullying, apathy, cynicism, narcissism, sarcasm, angst, irony, loneliness, selfishness, despair, anger, and cruelty have become commonplace and expected. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Maybe we can’t change the world with positive thoughts but we can definitely change our own world with our own happy thoughts. And maybe we can change the world of someone we know who struggles with hurt.
As a young and angsty teen who thought the world was against her, there was one person who was able to chip away at my cynical facade and pull out the real and happy me. He was a youth leader in my church and he always had a smile on his face. Whenever he saw me he would ask me, sincerely, how I was doing. And since he wasn’t related to me and really didn’t know me at all, this blew my mind. I would find myself opening up and chatting with this man. I didn’t tell him my feelings of loneliness or woe but just talking to someone who was happy helped me to see the happy in the world and focus on it.
So how do we think happy thoughts when maybe our world is spiraling downward or maybe we see all that isn’t so great? that is a very good question.
1) Be grateful. No matter who you are or where you come from there is always a blessing or two to be found. A warm bed to sleep in. A full belly. A chance at education. A good job. A happy family. A strong body. Start a list in your head or on paper and keep it going till you can’t stop. Gratitude breeds happiness. That’s a fact.
2) Do something kind for someone else, just for the heck of it. Do the dishes for your family or roommate. Bring flowers to a neighbor. Open the door for a stranger. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. There is nothing that will help you understand how much good there is in the world like service. Being a part of something good and honest and true also breeds happiness.
3) Stop judging. I know the lady that sits behind you in church can’t sing. I know the Jones’s kids aren’t that well-behaved. I know your neighbor can’t afford his car. I know that that one guy at work is a know-it-all (and apparently I am too). But I also know that you have your own flaws and you make your own mistakes and that you don’t want people judging you for those anymore than they want you judging them for theirs. So give that guy that cut you off the benefit of the doubt- maybe he really didn’t see you, or maybe he’s late for something. There are millions of reasons why people are the way they are and do the things they do and you judging them doesn’t stop them and it doesn’t make you happy. So stop.
4) Smile. I always struggle when in my women’s church meeting people say that the best way to cheer someone up is to smile. I actually don’t believe that at all. But I do believe that smiling cheers you up. I do a yoga series from youtube and every once in a while the instructor reminds me to smile. And I gotta say, it helps. Sometimes the stretches are a little strenuous and just smiling through it and realizing that in the end it will benefit me is helpful. So when life gives you lemons and you want to pucker, take a minute to smile.
5) Be genuine. When you are genuine it means that you actually care about someone other than you. When you ask how they are doing, you want to know. When you ask if they need something, nothing will stop you from assisting them in any way you can. And by being genuine you are focusing on problems other than your own. With that comes peace and happiness. With that comes perspective and clarity about what is really important in life: helping each other. We’re a social society for a reason, it brings us happiness. So when you’re around others, genuinely take interest in their lives and notice the happiness build.
The best advice I can give my former self and any that are struggling today is to look for the good in the world. I’m not saying that life isn’t hard and we should only think rainbows and butterflies, but I do know that always focusing on the bad won’t get you anywhere good. So whenever you can: think happy thoughts and try and lift those around you with your happiness.